Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

By Stephen Mulhall | Go to book overview

Postscript Philosophy's Closet

Looking back over this extended and dense account of the trajectory of Cavell's philosophical project, what none the less strikes me most forcibly is how much of that project has been left unexamined. In particular, I have made no attempt to assess in any detail the nature of Cavell's relationship to the early and late work of Heidegger, or to the recent efflorescence of French Post-Structuralist thought (both psychoanalytic and deconstructive). These matters are, I think, important to Cavell's self-understanding. Heidegger's early work illuminates Cavell's perception of the truth in scepticism and his later work explores one powerful conception of the active passivity of philosophical thinking (thinking as thanking); and Lacan's and Derrida's reconceptualizations of the subject and of writing (amongst a variety of other topics) provide a useful point of comparison with Cavell's own, and one which might make clearer the degree of Cavell's attachment to, as well as the power of his defence of, the central values of modernity. However, quite apart from limitations of space, Cavell's engagement with the work of all three seems to me to be as yet so fragmentary and occasional as to resist the type of exegetical techniques to which my work is committed, and accordingly to stand beyond this book's present scope.1

Another aspect or dimension of Cavell's work cannot so easily be passed over, however. It is a problematic of which Cavell has been aware for a reasonably long period of time, and so has already surfaced -- at least implicitly -- in previous chapters of this book; but I wish to conclude my account by examining it in a little more detail. Cavell himself has touched obliquely upon this theme in a number of places: for example, in the preface to Disowning Knowledge, he acknowledges that the stylistic revisions to which he has, in that reprinting, subjected the prose of his early essay on King Lear primarily concern its period-piece, male-centred use of pronouns; and in so doing, he specifies

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1
Some essential preliminary work on the task of relating Cavell's project to that of Derrida has been effected by Michael Fischer in Stanley Cavell and Literary Skepticism ( Chicago, 1989).

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